References

Setting

Alexandria is a city on the northern coast of Egypt, on the west side of the Nile delta. The city itself was founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great after he liberated Egypt from the Persian Empire. After Alexander’s death, his general, Ptolemy, brought his body to Alexandria, and eventual became the pharaoh of Egypt, resting control from Cleomenes. Ptolemy established the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, which ended when the last of the Ptolemaic line, Cleopatra VII (Yes, the same one Anthony dallied with), died in 30 BC. The City is famous for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and the Library of Alexandria, considered the greatest storehouse of ancient knowledge, that was burned to the ground.

The play itself seems to take place during a war between the Diadochi or the successors to Alexander the Great. After Alexander died his empire was broken up into smaller kingdoms ruled by his generals. For about 150 years following his death the generals fought over territory against each other, passing their quarrels down to their own heirs. The invasion of Egypt by the four kings that ends the play is similar to several military campaigns during this period. While the play seems to be set during the Diadochi wars, it is a fictitious event, there is no Cleanthes who becomes king of Egypt, and the queen of Egypt and the four invading kings are also fictitious characters, though their names are based on real people.

References in the text

The following people and places are referenced in the text.The number the follows the reference is the location in my text in scene and line number. I added a pronunciation guide to those words that looked like they needed it. There is a map that shows the aproximate locations of the places mentioned here.

A depiction of Osiris
A depiction of Osiris

Osiris 1.2 was the Egyptian god of the afterlife. He was the merciful judge of the dead, who weighed your soul to determine your afterlife, he was also a god of vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile. He is the brother and husband of Isis. The most known story is how his brother Set (sometimes Seth) kills Osiris for his throne. He chopped up the body and scattered it all over Egypt. Isis recovered the body parts and performed the Ritual of Life to resurrect Osiris. At that time he and Isis conceive Horus. Osiris cannot remain in the land of the living and returns to the underworld to sit as judge of the dead. The cult of Osiris became a popular one in Ancient Greece, and Rome. The worship of Osiris lasted until the Christian conversion of Rome and Greece.

A Pre-Raphialite painting of Thetis supplicating Zeus
A Pre-Raphialite painting of Thetis supplicating Zeus

Thetis 1.64 (THEE-tis)Thetis is a lesser Greek goddess of the sea. Her main importance is being the mother of Achilles. The story goes that Zeus and the other gods were quite taken with Thetis, but a prophet foretold that any child Thetis bore would surpass the father. As the gods did not want to be surpassed, they married Thetis to King Peleus of the Myrmidons. The resulting child is Achilles, greatest of the Greek heroes. In one story it is Thetis who dips Achilles in the Styx in an attempt to rid him of mortality, however his week spot is the place on his ankle where Thetis holds on to him.

Hecatomes 1.103 (HE-ka-tombs) was a classic Greek sacrifice of 100 cattle to the gods. Basically the cattle were slaughtered, the bones were wrapped in fat and that was burned as an offering for the gods. The meat was eaten.

Isis
Isis

Isis 1.105 Aside from her association with Osiris (see above) Isis is also one of he most powerful Egyptian gods. Her worship spread through ancient Greece and Rome. She is the goddess of mothers and wives, nature, magic, slaves, sinners, artists and simplicity. One belief held by the Ancient Egyptians was that the Nile flooded every year due to the tears Isis shed for her dead husband on the anniversary of his death.

Memphis 1.112 Originally a city called Ineb-Hedj (The White Wall) During the Greek period in Egypt, Memphis was one of the most important cities in Egypt, along with Giza, Cairo and Alexandria. (see map)

Abraham’s asses 1.183 there seems to be a misinterpretation of several Biblical stories that leads to the notion that the Jews worshiped asses in the Holy of Holies. There is a story of Abraham visiting Egypt with his goods on an ass. There are other references to Abraham’s asses, but they all seem to be rather normal references to a man making use of his beast of burden. The Bible also mentions Abraham saddling his ass, from what I can find this is also the norm, as the horse was not known in the Holy land during the time of Abraham. This reference may also be to the fact Abraham placed his son Isaac on an ass to lead him to the sacrifice, before God provided a ram.

A depiction of Hero and Leander by William Etty
A depiction of Hero and Leander by William Etty

Hero and Leander 2.5 This is a Greek myth about Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite who dwells in a tower in Sestos at the edge of the Hellespont River. Leander is a young man from Abydos across the river. He falls in love with Hero and would swim the river every night to see her. Hero would light a lamp in the tower to guide his swim. The relationship lasts through the warm summer, but when winter hits the storms toss Leander out to sea, and blow out Hero’s light. Leander is drowned, in grief Hero throws herself from the tower. This reference is interesting in a Chapman play, as before his death Marlowe began an epic poem about Hero and Leander. After Marlowe died, Chapman finished the poem.

Corrucus 2.106 (Kor-UK-us) in Greek Korukos of Corycus is city in the Cilicia, a part of the Turkish peninsula. There is a famous cave there where the best saffron crocuses grow. There is also a river that flows out of the cave to instantly sink back underground and flow to the sea. In Greek myth it is the cave of Pindar and of Aeschylus, as well as the bed of the giant Typhon. (see map)

Arcadia 4.1 Arcadia is both a Region in Greece, and in Egypt. The Egyptian region contains parts of lower Egypt, including Memphis. The Greek region covers a small section of the Peloponnese area, near where Sparta was. As the Egypt of this play seems to include Memphis, I believe this Arcadia is in Greece. Arcadia is also the term for a utopia, usually a pastoral natural land. It is a popular topic for Renaissance writers. (see map)

A Pre-Raphialite depiction of Ariadne
A Pre-Raphialite depiction of Ariadne

Ariadnes 5.45 (air-ee-ODD-nays) Most commonly known as Ariadne, she was the daughter of king Minos of Crete. She helps Theseus overcome the minotaur in the labyrinth. After rescuing Theseus, he takes her with him as he sails away from Crete, but abandons her on an island. There the god Dionysus comes to her and makes her his bride.

Diana 5.47The Latin for the virgin goddess Artemis. She is sister to Apollo. She is commonly associated with the moon, and carries a bow. The best known story about her is when the hunter Acteon discovers her bathing in a pool, she enraged turns him into a stag, and he is devoured by his own hounds. Elizabeth I was associated with Diana due to her virgin status.

A Renaissance depiction of Diana
A Renaissance depiction of Diana

Berenice 5.48 (BEAR-i-NICE-ees) there are several possible Berenices that this could reference. Perhaps the most famous is the daughter of Salome. Salome was the sister of Herod who demanded the head of John the Baptist. While there is a lot about Salome, there is little about this Berenice. There is a Berenice who was the mistress of Ptolemy I, her bastard son with Ptolemy was recognized as heir and became Ptolemy II. The Ptolemy in this play has no number, and there is no historical reference in which to figure out which Ptolemy this is, so it is possible the reference is to this Berenice. There are several other Berenice’s in the Ptolemaic line. One in fact was an older sister to Cleopatra.

A Pre-Raphialite depiction nof Andromeda chained to the rock of Jaffa
A Pre-Raphialite depiction nof Andromeda chained to the rock of Jaffa

Andromica 5.49 This is a corruption of Andromeda and Andromache. Andromache was the wife of Hektor, the greatest Trojan hero, who Achilles kills toward the end of the Iliad. However, this reference is to Andromeda, the daughter of Cassiopeia, Queen of the Phoenician kingdom of Ethiopia. Cassiopeia, being vein, states that Andromeda is more beautiful than the Neriads, or sea nymphs. As punishment Poseidon sends a sea monster called the Cetus to ravage the coast of Ethiopia. The Oracle states that to save the kingdom Andromeda must be scarified at the rock of Jaffa. Perseus (see below) returns from slaying the Medusa and uses the head to kill the monster Cetus. He marries her. (The classic movie Clash of the Titans tells a bastardized version of this story).

A Renaissance sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Medussa
A Renaissance sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Medussa

Perseus 5.51 Perseus is the son of Danae and Zeus. Danae’s father locked her in a tower to prevent her from having children. Zeus comes to Danae as a shower of gold. Danae’s father locks his daughter and grandson in a wooden chest and tosses them into the sea, in an attempt to rid himself of the child that the oracle stated would kill him, yet not anger Zeus by killing him. Perseus grows up to be a strong hero. Among his many exploits are the slaying of the gorgon Medusa, and the rescue of Andromeda (See above). He does eventually return to his mother’s home and kill his grandfather, fulfilling the prophesy.

Asterismes 5.53 (A-stir-is-mess) I can find no reference to anyone by this name. I think it may be a variation of Astraea, who is the star-maiden. She is an old goddess, but the last immortal to live with humans. She is the celestial virgin, she is also a personification of justice.

Hella the sorceresses 6.41 I have two possibilities for this name, one is a corruption of Helen, who was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, and is stolen from Menelaus, King of Sparta, by Paris and taken to Troy, thus sparking the Trojan War. The other possibility is that it basically means the Greek woman. The Greeks call themselves the Hellenic people. The term seems to come from the city Hellas in the Thessaly region of Greece (see map). The city may be named for Hellen, a hero of ancient Greece who is the progenitor of many heroes, he is the great great grandfather of Odysseus and Peleus (father of Achilles). The people from the Thessalian region were called the Myrmidons, and the Hellenes. They both were under the command of Achilles in the war of Troy.

Spanish leather jerkin 7.62 Spanish leather was, at the time, the most prized leather. There may be another meaning behind this reference, but I could not dig up any information on it.

Etheopia 8.0 This is simply an alternate spelling of Ethiopia, which during the reign of the Ptolomeys was a powerful country, it is in fact one of the oldest countries in the world. (See map)

Arabia 8.0 This country spread over where modern day Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are today. It has been, in the past, part of the Persian Empire. At the time of the play, as it is after Alexander’s conquest of Persia, Arabia is a smaller independent country. (see map)

easter-egg.jpg

Phasiaca 8.0 (Fas-ee-AH-ca) The best I can find on this is that it is a Latin tern for the area around the Phasis river where it empties into the Black Sea, in what is today Georgia. (see map). Phasis is gone now, but the modern city of Poti is near its original location.

Bebritia 8.0 (be-BRIT-ee-ah) is a corruption of Bebrycia, which is an ancient name for Bithynia. Bithynia is a region in what is now northern Turkey. Bithynia was a kingdom before Alexander’s conquest, and was able to maintain its status as a kingdom after his reign. It later became a roman province, until the Byzantine Empire. (see map)

Caspia 9.86 There are two possible locations of this Caspia, one is the town of Casium near Pelusium in Egypt. The other is a region on the South East shores of the Caspian sea that was once known as Caspia for the Caspii people who settled there. They lent their name to the Caspain Sea. The text suggests that Capsia is in Egypt, lending weight to the argument for Casium, however Phasiaca, where one of the attacking kings is coming from, is close to the southern shores of the Caspain sea, and Ptolomy may control territory in the area. (see map)

A bust of the god Serapis
A bust of the god Serapis

Serian groves 9.102 (SER-ee-an) This is most likely a reference to the temple of, Serapis that was located in Alexandria. It was the most famous of the temples to Serapis. Serapis was a Greek-Egyptian god that Ptolemy established as a god for both the Greeks and the Egyptions in Alexandria. The god has some connections to the death of Alexander the Great. The cult of Serapis gained popularity due to the gods supposed aid to emperor Vespasian. The Temple was destroyed in 385 by a Christian mob.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License